“A couple days ago I posted on another VO FB group I’m on about some success I was having on Voices dot com aka VDC as a very new talent, trying to share my experience so others could know what to expect when it comes to their “algorithm” for doling out auditions.
One of the commenters suggested that VDC has bad business practices and that I should be avoiding them. A fair comment, and I responded saying that yes, I was aware but was using them to get my bearings and learn how to do this job before sinking thousands into demos (I don’t have any yet).
The entire thread got derailed, and she went on to call me a shill/propagandist for VDC. The thread was then deleted, and the useful info I was trying to share for people using VDC got lost.
I’m reminded by this of Carin Gilfry’s comments on the podcast episode about Fiverr, and how gatekeepers aren’t doing the industry any favours by demonizing people who are using some of the less-than-top-notch platforms.
I don’t want to be working at the bottom forever, I hope to move up quickly to better paying jobs on more reputable platforms. I’m grateful for people like Carin who understand that there are many ways to get started, and that we can’t prevent a slide into lower wages for VO by ostracizing the people who are willing to do it, but rather by helping them improve to the point that they know they’re worth more.”
THE ROUNDUP RESPONSE
First of all: Kudos to this talent for wanting to help others by sharing her experience using voices dot com. I remember when I got started in this business… I don’t think Facebook even existed (yes, I’m that old), and I would have loved some advice on how to break into this almost impenetrable business.
Secondly, the writer is aware of VDC’s reputation, but is choosing to use the platform anyway. Thousands and thousands of people are doing the same thing, and that’s how VDC stays in business posting 1000 dollar jobs for 500 and pocketing the difference.
That’s like saying, “I know RoundUp weed killer poisons my garden and kills pollinators but I’ll use it anyway because it works for me.”
Mind you: good people can do very good work in a very bad environment. They are not responsible for that environment, but they enable it to grow. They are keeping it alive, and thus become complicit.
This colleague then says:
“I was aware but was using them to get my bearings and learn how to do this job before sinking thousands into demos.”
That’s a justification I have heard hundreds of times. “I don’t really like what a company like VDC is doing, but I am USING them to get started.” And Pay to Plays are the first to lean into that narrative. They know that there aren’t enough jobs on the platform to keep everybody happy, so the way they justify their annual fee is to say: “You may not get the job, but at least you got some practice.”
Yeah… every time you fail to book a job, you have learned how NOT to do it. And since repetition is the mother of skill, the more you fail, the better you become at what you’re not good at.
Let me repeat that:
The more you fail, the better you become at what you’re not good at.
LEARNING ON THE JOB
Learning can only take place when you get in-depth feedback on your poor performance, and when someone more experienced and skilled shows you how you can improve.
So, I want to know: did the kind people at VDC ever give you any detailed insight as to why you didn’t land all the jobs you auditioned for? And did they give you any type of coaching that would increase your chances of doing well on the platform?
“I was aware but was using them to get my bearings and learn how to do this job before sinking thousands into demos .”
I appreciate this person’s honesty. She admits she’s using VDC to effectively learn on the job. Can you imagine skier Mikaela Shiffrin signing up for the Olympics so she can gain some experience? Or Dutch race car driver Max Verstappen showing up for a Grand Prix to become familiar with his new car?
No. These people are in it, to win it. The purpose of using sites like VDC is to book jobs and make money. If you need on the job training, you’re telling me you are not ready for the race.
Would you ever hire an electrician to rewire your entire house who admits he’s just trying to get his bearings? Would you trust a surgeon to operate on your baby boy, who admits that she needs more job experience?
And what about clients? The clients who hire you expect you to KNOW your job. They don’t want you to experiment on their dime. That’s not what they are paying you for. They might as well turn to AI!
Of course one could argue that every new job is a learning experience, but that’s where you REFINE the skills you are already supposed to possess. If you don’t think you have what it takes and you need more time to become good at what you do, your priority should be coaching, and not leaving bad impression after bad impression on Pay to Plays.
Why is this such a hard concept to understand, and why are people like me who bring this up, seen as discouraging, or demonizing and alienating newbies? Contrary to what some people believe, I’m not a nasty person. I’ve been supporting new talent since my very first blog post, many, many years ago.
Here’s another way to make my point.
When I buy an expensive ticket to a classical concert, I expect to be wowed. I’m not paying for a pianist who’s learning on the job.
“But Paul, isn’t that a bit extreme?”
No, it’s not.
The voice over business (and many other businesses in which creative freelancers are active) is not an equal opportunity business. For two reasons. ONE: people are not equally talented. The fact that one person is naturally good at something and the other isn’t, is UNFAIR, and it can’t be fixed. TWO: There isn’t room for everyone. To quote an ancient book:
“Many are called but few are chosen.”
At the Curtis Institute of Music, one of the best in the world (if not THE best), the admission rate is a generous 4%. And who knows what percentage of graduates will go on to the big stage and have a sustainable career?
By the way, all the students at Curtis are learning and learning and learning, before they audition to get that job at the New York Philharmonic for which they have to compete with hundreds of equally talented and passionate applicants who all believe they deserve a shot.
If you’re a new voice actor you may not like what you’re hearing, but I’m not one of those people who is trying to sell you a dream so I can make some money off of you. In my book, that’s unethical. That’s taking advantage of people.
Now, back to my colleague who wrote:
“I was aware of VDC, but was using them to get my bearings and learn how to do this job before sinking thousands into demos.”
Her priorities are where they need to be: get your bearings first before investing money in things like demos. However, I don’t like the words:
“sinking thousands into demos.”
Does that sound positive or negative to you? When you sink, you literally go under, and you may drown… in debt.
Why didn’t this person say “investing thousands into demos”?
The words we unconsciously choose, reveal a lot about a person’s mindset and attitude.
INVESTING IN A CAREER
My wife, who -as you may know- is a professional flutist and piano teacher, was ready for a new instrument. A quality instrument makes the job easier, and if you advertise yourself as a pro, people don’t expect you to show up with a 500 dollar beginner flute.
In fact, my wife’s new flute was hand-crafted from pure gold, and made to fit her fingers. It cost as much money as a nice car, but it’s even more valuable because there is no instrument like it.
So, whenever I hear aspiring voice overs complain about the cost of being in business, I have to laugh. Have they looked at the cost of tuition at a reputable university? And at the debt people are left with when they graduate?
Now compare that to the cost of setting up a simple voice over home studio, and buying a mic, a preamp, a headset, and getting some coaching and doing a few seminars.
Before you say that getting started in voice overs is expensive, ask yourself: compared to what? I’m not saying you should do this on a shoestring budget, but since I started it has become a lot cheaper.
POWER OF PERCEPTION
And are you really sinking thousands into a demo if that’s what helps you book job after job after job?
In every profession there is a price to entry. My contractor had to buy a new van and replace all his power tools. You don’t want to know how much he spent. He only did it because these things will pay for themselves many times over…
…but not if he’d be selling his services at rock bottom rates. He knows he has to run a for-profit business, otherwise he will sink into a sea of his own making. He also knows about the power of perception. He knows that low rates create the expectation of low quality, and that clients who nickel and dime are the most demanding and difficult to deal with.
Now, be honest. When you take a step back, is all of this news to you? Do you think I’m this nasty party pooper trying to rain on your voice over parade?
If that were true, you are the VICTIM and that makes me the PROBLEM.
Remember the last paragraph this new voice over wrote?
“I’m reminded by this of Carin Gilfry’s comments on the podcast episode about Fiverr, and how gatekeepers aren’t doing the industry any favours by demonizing people who are using some of the less-than-top-notch platforms.”
I think she’s talking about that one podcast Carin and Jamie Muffet recorded after I wrote about what Carin Gilfry had said publicly about Fiverr at VO Atlanta. In my opinion (and I stress OPINION) I thought Carin, as the VP of NAVA (the National Association of Voice Actors), was cozying up too much to Fiverr, something she later explained in the podcast, was not the case or at least not her intention.
Since this was all started by me, I hope you’ll forgive me that I take the above comments personally.
So, three things: “gatekeepers,” “demonizing,” and “not doing the industry any favors.”
WATCHING THE GATES
A gatekeeper is like a bouncer. He or she controls access to something, in this case I assume she means access to the entire voice over industry, whatever that means.
I didn’t realize I was this powerful!
In fact, I didn’t know there were any gates in this industry apart from lack of talent, lack of training, lack of connections, and a lack of financial resources. But those are all things I have no control over.
As you are reading these words, I have no control over how they will land. That’s on you, not on me.
If you ask me, the Pay to Plays are the real gatekeepers because if you don’t pay, you won’t play. And in some cases, the more you pay, the more you get to play.
Now, when you demonize someone, you characterize them as evil or wicked, whether or not they actually are. When you use strong language like that, you better come up with solid proof to back it up. And if you can’t, you’re actually vilifying the “gatekeeper” you’re accusing of demonizing others.
And lastly, the phrase “doing the industry any favours.” The trouble with vague language is that it can mean different things to different people. I take it to mean: making a positive contribution to our field of work and my community.
Listen, I don’t think we’re doing anyone any favors by not telling newcomers about the pitfalls, the dangers, and the difficulties that lie ahead. There are too many people painting a positive get-rich-quick picture, and they all want one thing: Your hard-earned money. They all have something to sell and something to gain.
WHAT DO I ACTUALLY WANT
You may not agree with how I see the voice over industry (I don’t even like the word “industry”), and you may not like the way I write or speak about certain people or companies. But ask yourself:
“What’s my motive? What does Paul have to gain? What does he want from me?”
Am I trying to scare you so I can exploit your fear and inexperience to sell you my book, my products (that I don’t have), or my coaching/demo production services? Have I ever asked you for money? Do I want you to sign up for some kind of program or conference that promises to give you the edge in whatever?
Am I hoping to boost my reputation by saying not so nice things about the VP of NAVA, or the CEO of VDC? If that were the case, it totally backfired since some people seem to think I am demonizing colleagues that are very well liked, and who do amazing work for our community (colleagues like Carin, for instance).
Or am I simply a European attention seeker in the USA who has failed in his profession and is fueled by bitterness and resentment, or who is trying to discourage people who he sees as competition?
Believe me, I have heard it all.
DEBUNKING THE NONSENSE
To begin with the last theory: Paul, the person who craves attention. This may surprise you, but at heart I am a shy introvert who would rather operate in the quietude of his secluded Vermont studio. I love what I do for a living. Life is sweet instead of bitter, and all the things I set out to do professionally, I have done with no regrets (even risking my own life in the process).
I don’t believe in getting a leg up by putting other people down. In fact, I recently started the Goodmouth Mondays initiative, aimed at lifting unsung heroes in our community up by praising them in public.
And frankly, I don’t care about a thing like reputation. That’s only important to those with an ego the size of Texas. When I nearly died of a stroke while recording in my studio, what good was a reputation to me?
I don’t need your admiration or your money to feel good about myself. I may not be a millionaire, but my life is rich in so many ways. I have enough, and I am enough.
Most people who come to me for coaching I turn down, or they bail out once they read my terms and conditions which clearly state that I cannot and will not guarantee any results.
If you let me I can help you become a better driver, but once you’re on the road, you are on your own.
MY TRUE MOTIVATION
So, if those are not the reasons for sticking my neck out, what exactly drives me to be such a nasty, demonizing gatekeeper who likes to alienate new talent, berating them for using VDC or Fiverr?
Let me ask you this:
If you were the smart CEO of a company and you had to select people for your management team, would you only pick people who agree with you? In other words: YES-men and women?
Or would you welcome a diversity of opinions? Would you welcome people who have the guts to challenge you and make you think? People who are not afraid to find the flaws and point out the weaknesses, not to tear the plan down, but to make it stronger?
Yes, those people may seem a pain in the neck at first, but they are not out to destroy your dreams, but to wake you up. They are there to tell you that some emperors are not wearing any clothes and that what sounds too good to be true, is probably…. too good to be true.
Well, one of those pesky people would be me. Not because I’m naturally nasty, but because I can’t stand it when impressionable people are being sold a pipe dream, making them do more work for less money. To me, rates reflect respect. It’s how what we do as voice overs is valued. And when that respect is tossed aside and our work is devalued, I feel offended.
Offended by cheap clients, and by my colleagues who defend these rates saying “It’s a free market.” I want everyone to make at least a living wage in this country, preferably a whole lot more.
Go ahead: hate me for that.
I stick my neck out not to be a pain, but to empower people. Not to attack them, but to strengthen them against the attacks from the predatorial pricks that think you don’t deserve to be paid a fair fee.
Now, do I believe I have all the answers and that I always speak the truth?
No! I’ve never claimed to share THE truth with you. What can be true today, may be outdated tomorrow. Look at how fast AI is developing.
I am a flawed human being who has lost part of his brain thanks to a stroke. Even though I may come across as someone who knows it all, I really don’t, but like you I am searching for answers and I make you part of my search if you let me.
What I do, is share my subjective opinion based on my life, my experience, and my expertise. I don’t ask you to agree with me. All I ask of you is to give what I have to say some careful consideration and then make up your own mind.
FINDING BETTER PAYING JOBS
Our colleague on FB ends with:
“I don’t want to be working at the bottom forever, I hope to move up quickly to better paying jobs on more reputable platforms.”
To be honest, I don’t know who this person is or how she sounds, professionally speaking, but if you want to move up, you need to surround yourself with people who are better than you are and who charge more than you do.
Low paying jobs don’t challenge you to deliver value for money because there’s barely any money involved. If you need experience, read to kids with cancer or senior citizens. It will enrich their life and yours in ways you never thought possible, and, they can be a tough audience. If you don’t believe me, ask someone working in a children’s hospital or at a nursing home.
You’ll never feel more appreciated in your life!
If what you have to offer is of high quality, don’t you deserve more than beer money? If you need to prove to the IRS that you’re running a professional business instead of engaging in a hobby, shouldn’t you put the bar a bit higher?
I know this was a long sermon, and I apologize. But as the son of a minister, I can blame my father 😉
Thanks for listening, and thank you for your understanding.
As always, all comments are welcome but anonymous contributions from people hiding behind fake identities will be deleted. You may hold me accountable as much as you like, but it goes both ways.